Shifting Sand

Remember the last time you were wading at the shore in your bare feet, anticipating the next wave, letting the water rush over your toes and up your ankles and calves? There is a thrill to meeting the incoming waves, knowing each one will be different, wondering if you have judged its impact correctly. Your skin tingles with cold, particles of moving sand hit your legs, and the effect of wave action leaves you feeling more than slightly off balance. The sand shifts under your feet, while your body automatically makes adjustments to stay upright. As the wave retreats, pulling sand, shells, driftwood and pebbles with it, you brace yourself for the next one. A fresh wind blows your hair, while sea birds call out, and your lungs fill with salt air. 

Sometimes our days feel like this, even when we are not at the shore. We get out of bed, plant our bare feet on the ground, and prepare for the inevitable sensory onslaught. You look forward to the rush of the first morning coffee and your new favorite breakfast treat. The morning quiet is broken only by birds and dogs, and the neighbor’s chickens proudly announcing that their work is done for the day. You consider what to wear and what to pack in your lunch. You anticipate a productive business meeting. It is enough, manageable and mostly pleasant.

Then, it happens again, the thing you have come to dread. You turn on the morning news. You feel the sand shifting under your feet. You wonder if you will be able to maintain your stability because yesterday’s news cycle is once again pulling you into a roiling sea of whitecaps. In addition, there is a completely new tale unfolding for today’s news cycle. You recall you had this same feeling last week, but the particulars of the situation or the people involved are now a little fuzzy. You leave the newscast feeling overwhelmed, numb, outraged and depressed all at the same time. Be assured, you are not alone.

How do we maintain our equilibrium in a world of shifting sand? Our time of political and cultural change is proving difficult to navigate, no matter what your beliefs are. The cultural landscape is a shapeshifting rollercoaster fueled by social media and a younger generation coming into their own. This is not to say that change is bad, it simply seems overmuch.

According to chaos theory, change happens in the space between order and disorder, until a new balance is struck. Perhaps that is where we are now, in the space where the change happens. While we are actively working through this process, how do we keep ourselves from going numb?

For one thing, it can be helpful to know that people are influenced by something called negative bias. People are much more likely to recall memories of negative events and to view current events through a prism of negative thinking. Bombarded as we are by news, we can only take in so much information. To cope, our brains filter this down to the most dramatic, what it thinks we need to pay attention to. This leads to a more stressful impression of the world. Events can appear more fearful, larger, urgent or more generalized than if we take some time to critically think about the information. Challenge your own first impressions.

In spite of what we think we know about the state of the world, there are many things to celebrate, things that can feed our souls and give us hope. For example, every day 200,000 people move above the extreme poverty line of $2 a day, and each day 300,000 more people in developing countries receive a regular supply of clean water and electricity. For successful good news locally, I have only to glance from my car as I drive past our new Gateway Park, beautifully planned and filled with families.

The fact that we are alive necessitates engagement with the world. We try to keep up with events near and far, pay attention to trends and make decisions about where to place our personal energy every day. Given all our choices, it can be an unbalanced life. Be sure to look for the good news each day. It’s there. Looking at the big picture, and taking a long view, can help us ride the shifting sands of our everyday lives.

Vicki Husted Biggs is a longtime social worker who lives in Home.

A Shift in Perspective
A Shift in Perspective